Monday, March 17, 2014

Mike Caldwell's Cutting Tree and "Cutting" as a skill

Recently Mike Caldwell wrote a response in Skyd about his cutting tree  Having recently been thinking about how to get our boys to be better technical cutters I was super excited.  Mike has been a premier cutter for a long time and if he was going to break down something like the route tree, that was going to be huge.  Often cutting technique in ultimate gets described as running harder for longer, and that isn't going to work against better athletes (of which there are plenty as you get older, trust me).  Mike is a great athlete, but he has also been a premier cutter for a long time and is a tireless workhorse.  Surely he has some insight on different ways to get open.

Unfortunately his piece, while having many excellent points (including one on sente which does a good job of explaining who should cut when), doesn't really describe how to cut better in general but rather how to run a certain pattern well.  The pattern to run is along the diagonals and sides of a trapezoid.  If you go back and watch Sockeye in the mid-2000s it is no surprise that this is the pattern Mike gives you.  Their use of isolated thermals as a cutting style to make an aggressively under-cutting alternative to Furious' H-stack was revolutionary and created a pattern that many college teams hope (and fail) to emulate with their offenses.  Mike's coaching points of what to think about, how to get better at the pattern are good insight and practice for young cutters.

I think the place that I take issue, or was disappointed by the piece was in the use of the term "tree."  The route tree in football is a description of the different paths that a receiver can take within a football offense.  The premise is that it contains all of the options for the receiver and that since both the quarterback and the receiver know the same tree they can be on the same page more easily.  With that in mind Mike's "tree" kind of holds all of the cuts that Sockeye ran (at least from their cutters) in the early-mid 2000s.  But it is more of a flow pattern and less a "tree."  In part that is a dilemma of continuous sports like ultimate being put in contrast to segmented sports like football.  There isn't a clearing pattern in football, there is a stoppage of play.  Maybe flow patterns are ultimate's equivalent to cutting trees, describing broad paths for players to take?  In that case, Mike's piece is a description of the old Sockeye flow pattern and is invaluable to players trying to be excellent cutters in that system.

However I think that cutting and flow patterns are different things.  Flow patterns tell you where the next cut should be and where you should go when you are done cutting (or aren't cutting at all).  Sockeye's H stack called for hard under cuts through the middle (often at an angle) and clears down the sideline (that could easily be deep cuts).  Cutting feels different.  Cutting is a move that is designed to create separation between you and your defender and is somewhat independent of the placement of the disc and more about the placement of the space you are trying to access.  I digress lest I spend the next 2000 words talking about space.

One of the big advantages of the football route tree is it tells you how to get where you are going.  It involves a discrete cut/movement to get open.  Five yards hard out then a 120 degree turn towards the quarter back (hitch).  Ten yards you then a 90 degree turn across the middle of the field (dig).  That is the element that I (perhaps naively) was looking for in Mike's piece and found missing.  I think I was hoping for a description of methods that Mike used to get open in different situations (with a defender fronting him, with a defender playing even, from a lateral reset, etc.).  What Mike provided really has only one (maybe two) cutting movements: a sharp change in direction at the top and another at the bottom of the trapezoid.  But that leaves a lot of different ways to get from A to B unexplained.

That is one of the other values of the football route tree.  Even if a particular offense doesn't use all of the tree (the Packers love their slants but don't throw too many flats), the branches are there for everyone to learn and understand.  It establishes the language of cutting in football.  Every community has a vernacular for their cuts, but the football route tree is almost universally consistent (sure there are subtle changes between things like a go route and a fade, but there is broad agreement on post, hitch, dig, out, slant, etc.).  We currently lack a common language for how to talk about these cuts.  What is a scoo or a whoop cut?  Is it a double cut or a triple cut?

So I think what I am going to spend some time on is developing a cutting tree that is about creating separation between you and your defender.  I'll talk to various coaches about different ways that they cut in hopes of generating the fundamental movement patterns/breaks that make up all of the cuts.  While many offenses don't use most of those cuts, coming up with a common vernacular and skill set to teach young players will hopefully help coaches develop talent faster and help players figure out multiple ways to get open to the same space.  This will be quite a little project, but I think there is some really work to be done there.  With that being said, what is your favorite cut?

Extra Note:  I've spoken with Kyle about this and I think he and I are going to work to make sure we are using the same names for cutting to start the ball rolling towards a common vernacular.  

Monday, March 03, 2014

TUFF vs UCF Coin Toss: What To Do With The Wind

I was reading an article by Jimmy Leppert on Skyd a second ago and was struck by some of the responses in the comments about a decision Texas had to make after the toss.  Apparently, and I hope I am getting this correct since it is all second hand, UCF won the coin toss and decided to take the up-wind side on a very windy day.  I guess kudos to Andrew Roca for choosing the correct side, but that was an easy choice.  Then Texas, coached by Calvin Lin who has been through his share of games, decides to start on offense.  Jimmy, the post's author, states that he was surprised by this decision and then people in the comments state that they would do the same thing.

So let's go over the rationale for receiving the pull going upwind to start the game:
-You can put your best players on the field going upwind with fresh legs
-You have to score upwind at some point anyway
-You hope that their defense isn't playing well early in the game
-You have the most amount of time to recover from the break that you give up by not scoring

I think most, if not all, of those fail to hold up to much scrutiny.  Let's just give up on the last two, because I think those are the easiest to dismiss (although if I need to in more detail I'll be happy to do so in the comments).

Let's focus on the 2nd on because that is the one that was being supported in the comments.  It is the one that seems to have the best chance of winning against scrutiny.  Texas DOES have to score an upwind point to win the game since the lost the coin toss, but not all upwind points are the same.  By receiving the pull Texas is likely to start at the brick (as the best scenario) or in the back of the endzone on the sideline (as the worst scenario).  Somewhere in the endzone is most likely.  Now Texas has to work upwind a full 70+ yards to score against a defense that is set and focusing on D.  That is a tall order even though you might have the best pieces in place (point 1) to accomplish that task.  UCF gets to set whatever defense they want and knows their assignments prior to the pull.

If that is how you are going to score your upwind point, the odds are pretty low.  Instead lets looks at an alternative: you start on defense.  This is the choice that Texas had and didn't take.  Here are some of disadvantages:
-"Weaker" defensive players on the field
-You have to get a break from the opponent
-They can always punt to force you to go 70 yards
-Pulling upwind you are likely giving the offense a shorter field to score

These seem like good reasons to go with the offense, but are they really?  The advantages of pulling are pretty decent too.  You get to control the tone of the point by setting the defense and as a result you can hope for an unforced error or block such that you get a short field.  That seems like the most compelling argument for pulling first.

If you pull you can try to get them stuck on a sideline and force either lateral throws to get off of the sideline or a straight punt.  At worst, if they punt, you have to work no more than 70 yards against a transition defense that may not have their assignments figured out yet (or might have a particular match up you can exploit).  At best you can block the punt or force backward passes to reduce your field even more.

So if you start with the pull you can at worst be in a situation better than if you started on offense, and at best have a situation that is better than all likely ones when you start on offense (I suppose there is a chance that your opponent will shank the pull and give you a short field, but those are super low odds).

If we go back through the list of advantages of receiving and think about them again I think the decision becomes clear:
-You can put your best players on the field with fresh legs: You can do that while starting on defense, and you can find a way to manufacture that later in the game if need be.
-You have to score upwind anyway: True, but not all upwind scoring opportunities are the same and the possible outcomes for an upwind score are better when you are starting on defense.
-You hope that their defense isn't playing well early in the game:  O.k. but if that isn't the case then their transition defense isn't likely to be playing well either.  Giving a slow starting defensive line the chance to play the defense of their choice with the opponent going upwind is a pretty friendly start to a game.
-You have the most amount of time to recover from the break that you give up by not scoring: True, but it would also be nice to not need that time.

I have ignored the mental aspects of starting down a break (likely 0-2 by the time the game gets back on track) mostly because those are so specific to a team's make up.  In general it would seem like you would never want your team to be in a position of weakness, but I have played against plenty of teams that seem to find strength in those positions.  The subject gets murky very quickly, so best to just leave that alone.

I guess my outcome is that it is almost always better to start on defense if you are forced to choose going upwind.  Maybe I should ask Kyle, I'm sure he's solved this already.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Young Players and Stats

This post is kind of a train wreck, stream of consciousness, piece of nonsense.  I'll try to make more sense of it after another tournament.

Last weekend Paideia finished 4-2 at Deep Freeze, losing in the semis to Carolina Friends School.  The two losses were both to the finalists (Holy Family Catholic was the other one) and to teams that will be attending Paideia cup.  Probably the biggest struggle for us was how much we had to play young players.  They were mostly sophomores (we have 9 on the team) and they had to take tough assignments and handle most of the weekend.  They all rose to the challenge, but it was difficult for them.  In particular having to at times get upperclassmen to do the "right" thing was hard.  How do you tell a senior that they need to get you the disc on the swing when you can't drive yet?  I think Tiina would solve this through clearly laying out player expectations, but I don't think Paideia is there yet.

One thing that I focused on this past weekend was figuring out what stats I wanted to track.  I broke my stats down into two different categories: in-game and post-game.  The thought was that some stats I needed to be aware of in the middle of a game in order to manage it properly while some stats I didn't really need until the end of a game for trends.  The rest of this post is going to be about stats, so I don't want to get too far into the weeds here where there are more enticing weeds up ahead.

The statistic that I found had the most post-game utility was Unforced Errors.  I decided to ditch turnovers this season for UE since those are the easiest for us to control.  An Unforced Error was counted every time we had a drop or threw the disc away.  Basically a turn over without the defense touching the disc.  Tracking raw UE was pretty interesting and showed a team that uses all of its players and hasn't had much on-field practice time.

But what I am more interested in is thinking about how to track UE in a useful fashion and how to use it as a metric for the over all "quality" of our team.  Presumably lowering UE would be good for a team, but it doesn't even necessarily mean that the total number of turnovers went down.  One could lower their UE score while still  having the same turnovers by simply having the defense get more Ds.  That would feel doubly inaccurate because not only would we not be "playing better" as the metric might suggest, but we are actually playing worse because we are throwing more contested throws.  So a teams decision making ability affects UE, but I don't know how much that really matters.

What I really wanted to do is find a way to get meaning out of UE across disparate games.  This past weekend we beat Birmingham Forge 11-9 and Catholic High School B 13-0.  How do we compare numbers against such a range of opponents?  Perhaps the easiest way is to track UE per point, so the fact that there were 19 points in the Forge game and 13 points against CHS-B will be divided out.  But that doesn't account for the gap in opponent skill.  Without useful rankings in youth ultimate we can't use "strength" as a balancer because we don't know an opponent's strength.

So I started thinking of different ways to approach getting more meaning out of UE.  I came up with some things that I'm confident Sean Childers will be appalled with.  But I'm not a statistician, I'm a coach, and I would like to think that Bill Barnwell would at least be happy that a coach is trying to find more meaning in a number.

I'm stuck between two things to do to UE to give it more meaning.  They both related to score, as the best proxy for "strength" I can find in youth ultimate.  The first would be to take the delta of the score by the end of the game and use that to modify the number of unforced errors.  I think this would take the form of a divisor so that if you are winning by a large margin the value of an unforced error goes down.  But what about when you are losing?

Which brought me to my next idea.  The value of an unforced error (or a D?) is at least dependent on the current ratio of scores (with opposing score in the numerator).  As an example, if we dropped the disc when the score is tied at 6s that UE would have a value of 1.  If the score was 6-3 (so we are winning) it would have a value of 1/2.  If the score was 3-6 then it would have a value of 2.  I'm not convinced that this number is going to more accurately reflect the value of a turnover, and I know that there are some situations that would break this metric (a punt, for example).  But I'm thinking it might do a better job than just raw unforced errors, and there might be a number that we can use from year to year as a metric of "quality."

NOTE: as a side, this metric would highly value unforced errors when you are losing, which might feel counter to common sense.  It also would skew the data early in the game when the ratios could be further away from 1 with similar point differentials.  I guess the big questions (that we all think we know the answer to) is whether or not an unforced error is more devastating when down 3-2 or when down 13-12.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Prelude to a Turbulent Season

Paideia Gruel 2014, and also the entire Paideia Ultimate program is going to have quite a season of Change.  First, and least important for this post, our women's team finally has a permanent coach (Miranda Knowles), just in time for their youngest team on record.  There is likely to be a dip in their performance this year, but Miranda will be able to grow a program and is in a good position to get the women's program to JV-worthy numbers in the next year or so.  Meanwhile our JV numbers have blown up so that JV is wondering if they need to have 2 JV teams (which would still put us 3 or 4 behind Amherst).  Growth is clearly in the air for the players.

While Miranda adds some stability to the coaching situation, the growth presents new problems.  Miranda is clearly going to need an assistant, but until that is solved I will still be helping out with that ladies from time to time.  The men's varsity team is about to go through a totally different upheaval with the arrival of Michael's first child.  That should be happening any day now, which will put the "interim head coach" hat on my head for a little while.  I'll write more about that in a second, but then later on in the season I will have to bow out for a bit as our second child is born.  So during the season Gruel will have two different head coaches, and perhaps most importantly both of them will be learning how to be a head coach with a child for the first time.  Life is going to be different.

One of the changes I am hoping to implement is to continue to work on producing useful film for our Varsity program.  Hopefully I am going to get a "team manager" to film our practice scrimmages and if that is the case I am going to end up with a wealth of film.  Games would be awesome, but I don't know if that is as realistic.  What I hope to do with the film is the following:
-Take the film from a practice and watch it over the weekend, breaking each one down into 4-8 clips no longer than 20 seconds each.  Take each of the clips and write my own notes on them.

-During rain days have the players watch the film and tell me what they see.  They will most likely be hyper critical (sensing that it was I will try to be) and have them go through the process of recognizing what is a reasonable level of criticism for players on the field.  Have them come up with a prompt for the clip.  Some thing along the lines of "I would show a person this clip if I wanted to show them . . . "

-Share my notes with the players and have them see if my notes change how they think about the film.

-Finally, get them to reflect on how they can recognize that situation on the field themselves, rather than having to see it from a bird's eye.

-Towards the end of the season, use their categorization to group the film into sections (I imagine it is going to be something like, "good swing passes," "good defensive positioning," etc.)

This exercise with the players shouldn't take more than 5 minutes per clip (2-3 times watching it at 4 minutes for discussion).  The end goal would be to have a grouping of film to remind them of certain things that we had seen and to be able to use that in the future to both remind current players of what we already know and to help teach new players as they come into the program.

At this level what we are doing is teaching players.  The film is directed more towards improving the play of the players out there (and the team) and less about learning opposing team tendencies.  With that in mind (although I guess it would work in both settings) teaching the players how to recognize a situation they saw in the film room when they are on the field is incredibly important.

There are other big changes for Paideia Ultimate in the works.  I'll write about those later as they come up.  This year's film project might be a complete bust.  But either way we will work towards finding a better method for improving our players and playing better as a team.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Producing Instructional Film

This is the second part of my reflection on film from this summer's adventures.  The last piece was about using film on the same day to help the U-23 Mixed team this summer.  This post will be about some of the film work that I did helping Chain during the fall.  They are distinctly different types of film, and there is still a third type (watching the film) that I would love to do a piece on with Lou, Kyle, Matty, Bob or Whit.  That is a long list of people, and an open invitation if anyone is interested.

This summer Chain Lightning asked me to help them out a little.  The scope of the help was left somewhat vague (intentionally on my part) because I didn't think that stepping in as a full Coach was the right thing to do.  My job involved being at team meetings, planning some practices, and being a bird in the ears of the captains as they steered the ship.  One thing that I wanted to do was to film practices/games and use that to improve individual players and team mistakes.  It is a practice used in all sports, so why not use it in ultimate.  I had experience doing similar work with Olympic Athletes earlier in life, so I knew a little bit about what I wanted to be able to convey to the players with this video.

Chain has a certain reputation and so my first task was to use film to either reinforce or refute that reputation.  The team also had certain strategic goals they were trying to achieve, and the film was a good way to determine if they had achieved those goals.  Then there were specific player goals that could be checked with film.  All of these things required me to get film, go through it, edit it and then add commentary as needed.

Acquiring film was pretty easy.  I didn't have time to sit and film all of the practices, but Chain set up cameras for me so I got some film from practice.  In the future having a "camera man" feels pretty key. That can be a tough thing to find since most people who want to be involved with ultimate want to play, and unless you are paying them (or they are related to someone) people aren't likely to give up their weekends to stand behind a camera.  Ultiworld made getting prior game film easy since they were filming at tournaments and for a cost you could get the raw files.  The film on NexGen and ESPN was perhaps of better "quality" but was often shot a little too close for my taste, and was streamed so you couldn't edit a file directly.  More on that later.

With film in hand it just took time for me to go through it, and finding an editor that I could use.  MPEG-Streamclip is a quick and dirty editor for mp4 files and became the editor de jour since I could trim quickly and convert between file formats with little problem.

Finding the right pieces of film to cut was difficult at times and easy at other.  If I went in with a narrative in mind it became easy to find the film that supported what I was thinking about.  When I was approaching film with a broad mentality (not knowing what I was looking for) it took significantly longer.  Out of the average game I was pulling somewhere between 20-30 clips dealing with a range of topics (defensive positioning, offensive structure, red zone, choices, etc.).  Breaking down all of those clips into a meaningful message was difficult at times, but felt like the important part of the film.  It became an issue of seeing what clips fit with a theme and then pulling them together.  Usually I would be able to break the film down into 2 or 3 themes.

With themes determines I would then combine all of the video (again in Streamclip) and start the annotation process.  If I were using iMovie I could have added captions to the video, but that felt like it was going to take too long.  So instead I used a Wacom tablet, Quicktime for a screen recorder and a piece of software from my job (teacher) called ActivInspire to allow me to draw over the screen using the tablet.  I would then go through the video, pause at certain points, telestrate the image then continue, all while providing audio commentary.  It was very easy for these videos to be long, but I tried to keep them under 15 minutes.  We as coaches have the ability to drone on about tactics and strategy for hours if we are allowed to, so I needed to prevent that tendency.  From that I would upload the film to a site and let the captains know about it.

At times the film was used to inform the next practice.  Other times it was forwarded to the team for everyone to watch.  Now that I have a mechanism for producing these videos the challenge from a coach perspective feels like learning how to integrate this as part of the overall process.  The questions that I left this summer with were: How do I improve the quality of information I get from watching film?  How to I speed up the process of editing and annotating the film?  How to I best deliver the messages I am trying to deliver? And finally, how do I establish that using film is helping the team rather than hurting the team?

I will have a chance to work on those questions during the upcoming high school season.  Instructional tape will be important for those players since they are so you and haven't played/watched as much ultimate as the rest of us.  Also with scouting being less important it is something that I can work on during the year.  My plan is to record practices, break down some of the film and watch it on rainy day (of which there always seem to be plenty).  Then I can have the players decide which sections of film should be put into a legacy bin that we use for years to come as an example of our our style of play.  I want to get away from highlights, of which there will be plenty and players understand what they look like.  What I am hoping to find is film of things like Baccarini's history 100+ pass zone point, so that players understand how our team operates and see things on the field they don't normally see.  I'll check back in on occasion to see how that is going.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Day-of Filming for Worlds

This post was prompted by an article that Lou wrote for Skyd regarding a conversation that he and Bob Krier had.  The gist of the conversation was Bob asking Lou what his setup was, Lou explaining that he didn't really have a great solution yet, but was interested in Hudl and thought it might work if you could get multiple teams to pay for it.  Bob said thanks and that was that.  Aside from being a little hurt that Bob wouldn't email such a question to me (after all he did see me tirelessly work through film this whole summer) I realized that I have a lot to say about the topic.  Not everything I have is best practice by any means, but it is something that I have spent a lot of time with.  So I figured I would put some of those thoughts down here.  It will be long-form, and probably in multiple parts, but since the words/minute rating on this blog is more like words/month I don't think that is a problem.

As you may have guessed from previous posts, I have put some time into film work during my coaching career.  It was something that I picked up in 2003 when I was working at the USOC Training Center in Colorado Springs.  Most of our job back then was about finding ways to quickly get coaches quantitative feedback for their athletes during training and competition.  We were figuring things out as we went along, and were having to mesh data collection with video to meet demanding coaches' desires.  It was stressful, but I learned a little about video production and a lot about the value of live feedback and film for athletes.  On the pre-Olympic level (many of the athletes involved were right on the cusp of making the trip to Athens) the margin for error was slim and any advantage a coach could find was worth it.

Dealing with film was difficult back then, so when I left the USOC I stopped for a while.  Eventually I picked it back up in 2007 during Emory's first and only Regional Championship.  The finals were against FUEL (University of Florida) and because I had two other head coaches for our Semis I was able to leave early and film FUEL's semifinal game.  This was basically me with a tripod, a slight elevation and a camera that shot in 480 and output MPEG-2.  That night I was able to hook it up to the hotel TV through component cables and watch.  Watching that film I realized that FUEL's defense was checking in with the thrower too much and losing sight of the offender.  But our straight stack cutting system typically left those cutters stationary as they waited for things to clear out.  So we knew we could exploit FUEL's defensive strategy with breakmark cutting when the defender wasn't looking.  While that wasn't the only thing that allowed us to win that game, it was the first time that I really felt like the film played a direct impact in a result (there were 2 other adjustments on defense that led to two breaks).  From then on I have tried to figure out how to best do game tape.

When I applied for the U23 coaching position last fall I started thinking about film again, and explained in the interview that film was going to be a large part of what I wanted to do.  Once I got the position it became increasingly more important that I figure out a way to deliver on that promise.  I dug out my old camera from 2007 and found it useless.  The resolution was too low and the format was terrible.  I decided to get a better camera (Panasonic V-201) a few months in advance to see what I could accomplish.  This camera isn't really the solution to my long term problems, but it worked in a pinch.  I knew that I wanted 1080p so that I could actually distinguish players from far away.  I also wanted a decent frame rate and aperture speed.  After talking to a film producing friend of mine I was pointed towards this Panasonic and a few other options.  The V-201 won because it was cheapest while still having decent features.

Getting the V-201 up an running was difficult at first.  There were two main formats for video recording: .mp4 and AVCHD. I had good experience with .mp4 from work in the classroom and knew how to do decent editing with MPEG-Streamclip.  The downside with .mp4 work in the past was that a camera designed to be plugged into a TV has a different interlacing order than a computer focused camera.  This meant that when tracking moving objects there was a strange line-splitting effect that occurred.  In order to get around this the film had to be processed/deinterlaced, which could take a while in streamclip.   I knew that at Training Camp I wanted to be able to view film with a turn around of less than 1 hour, so this type of codec wasn't going to work.

In came AVCHD, as a new format it promised good resolution and the capability to go directly to a computer.  Unfortunately it came with its own headaches.  The biggest one was that the files were large.  I could easily get into the GB range while filming 45 minutes.  But I guess that is what you get for a higher resolution. That would have been a real bummer if I had to do any processing.  Fortunately this format could be read directly by a computer, so I wouldn't need to do any processing to view it.  Unfortunately it wasn't readable by the basic version of quicktime.  So I had to upgrade to the pro version for $30.  It wasn't that big a deal and it allowed me to plug the camera directly into the computer and open the files straight in quicktime.  That part was a success.

Having successfully figure that out we went to Buffalo and filmed a practice.  I had Jason Simpson stand atop a 20 foot ladder leaning against a goalpost so that we got a good angle and decent amount of field without panning too much.  We were able to directly view all of the film on a large flatscreen in a common area, and used it that night in front of the whole team.  It worked as well as we had hoped.  While I don't think we did anything that amazing, it served the purpose of helping get people on the same page quickly.  It reminded me of working at the USOC where we would literally have a weightlifter finish a C&J then walk 2 steps and watch it again from two camera angles, in slo-mo and with force plate and bar velocity data coupled.  It seemed like overkill at the time, but in reality it allowed a coach to point out that the athlete was generating force unevenly (between their feet) and also a bit late compared to the bar velocity.

In Buffalo the advantage was clear because I was able to show these 26 players from all across the country what I was seeing on the field and how that shaped what I wanted to do offensively.  It made it easy for me to display the idea of functional space to players in terms of disc movement, and allowed Eli Kerns and I to go back and forth on the cost/benefit of a throw-and-go driven offense.  **I would like to point out that neither of us "won" that conversation, but the film allowed me to see what he was talking about and him to see what I was talking about in such a way that we both moved towards the middle**  From that point on we filmed every practice, and while the players were getting dinner the coaches would often be watching the film in order to figure out what to talk about that night or what to do with the next practice.  At times we would use the film to show players tendencies that we wanted to stress/diminish, but mostly it became a diagnostic tool for the coaches.

There was one hitch with the process, and it was quicktime.  An annoying feature of quicktime's AVCHD compatibility is that it opens a preview window from which you can select any of the video clips that are in the AVCHD file.  But once you select a video and watch it quicktime will kick you out so you have to do the whole thing over again.  It made hunting and pecking for specific video very slow and a momentum-kill in a film session.  If we had even a night to prepare we could have clipped all of the sections and made a unique video, but as it was we were trying to find specific plays in 1-4 minute long clips.

That hitch could have really been a damper for the process if it wasn't for one of the players (I think it was Justin Norden) that pointed out we could use VLC.  While VLC doesn't have some of the scrubbing features that QuickTime does (in quicktime the arrow keys will let you go frame by frame in either direction, in VLC you can only easily go forward) it will queue all of the individual videos in an AVCHD file so you can jump around with ease.

The use of day-of film became more evident in Toronto.  We had no prior knowledge of opposing teams going into the tournament (which is not that uncommon in mixed), so being able to scout opposing teams was vital.  We apparently got a reputation for being the CIA because we would bring a camera to other fields and film opponents, but it was worth it.  We also filmed most of our games so that we could watch the film that night and see if we were falling into bad habits.  All teams fall into bad habits, and having the ability to recognize that is important.  Having film showing a person displaying those bad habits goes a lot farther than just telling them after a point.  We used film often to show that we weren't running the team's end zone offense but rather each person's end zone offense, which explained why scoring from the red zone was taking so long.  Or to show how well we cleared out space in front of the disc as it swung to a sideline.

By the time we made it to power pools to play Canada we had film on all of our opponents, had broken down all of their offenses and all of their defenses.  But here we fell into a trap. Being all club players, the coaching staff felt that we needed to tell our team as much about our opponents as possible to be ready.  If we could use that to produce even one break that could be the difference between a win and a loss.  So the night before the game we spent a lot of time explaining everything that Team Canada was likely to do and how we were going to stop it.

The trap was that we unloaded too much information on our players.  I believe the captains accurately described it as "making the game more about Canada and less about US."  That was a problem that came from having access to so much film.  The well was so deep it was easy to drown in.  In the past, my page of scouting notes could have been finished quickly, but since we had film of everything we could go over too much.

The lesson we learned was that controlling the amount of film was important.  That is easy to see when making instructional film, but we lost sight of it in the day-of film process.  We continued to film everything, and use it for the coaches in bulk, but for the players sparingly.  By the time we played Canada in the finals we were able to refine the message to just a few clips of specific things we wanted to do.

So where does this leave me with day-of film going forward?  With the high school season ahead of me, we don't really scout as much as we do in club/national competition.  So I imagine the film will turn introspective and we will film our own games.  Then that night I'll go through stuff, pull some clips for the nightly team meeting and try to improve our game for the next day.  This film will most likely get kept for later use during rainy days, but at that point it will turn into "stale" film and I should be able to edit and telestrate it for particular messaging/instruction.  That feels like it should be another post.

I think the benefits the coaching staff and players got from day-of film was worth the headache, but it was easy to go overboard.  Players are tired after a day of ultimate, so forcing them to sit through film sessions may not be the right idea.  But that answer might change from team to team.  Getting a system up and running isn't terrible from a technical side.  You should be able to purchase a decent camera and software for under $350.  If done correctly you can then just plug it right into a computer (coupled with an HDMI out or AirPlay you can go to a TV easily).  From that point on you actual get to focus on coaching and can figure out how you want to use that video to convey a message to your team.

I'm sorry if this has been a rambling mess.  I have had so many thoughts about this topic they kept getting stuck together.  One thing that I would like to end with is a huge thanks to Kyle Krumwiede from Orlando.  He helped us with tryouts and traveled to Toronto in order to help the team.  He was my camera man for the entire week and without him we wouldn't have been able to get as much film as we had or been as prepared as we were.  He wasn't formally affiliated with the delegation, but he made a big impact and deserves credit.  USX.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quick Thoughts on USAU Nationals

As I sit here on a Saturday afternoon at home, freshly off the plane from Frisco, I wanted to put down some quick thoughts from this year's USAU National Championship.  For a little context I have served as Chain Lightning's consultant this season.  It isn't really a coaching position, but for USAU Nationals I was listed as a "coach."  My role was really to chirp in the ears of the captains with ideas and occasionally talk to the team.  I showed up to Nationals on Thursday in the middle of Chain's second round game against Machine and stayed until Saturday morning before all of the Semi-Finals.  That schedule left me in the dark on some things, so the following opinions are not entirely informed opinions.  I will apologize in advance for any facts I get wrong.  These are just things that popped in my head during the flight.

-First, the site was very good.  Each field getting its own small soccer field was excellent and provided ample room to move through and between fields.  Having them in a grid was much better than in a long line for getting from field to field.  Since I was spending my time between games trying to find friends and catching up that was appreciated.  There was plenty of room for vendors and other things around the fields.  This was probably the best tournament site I have every been to.

-Having five rounds on Thursday seemed fine.  It was a little strange that there were people on byes wandering around, but that was generally nice because you could see your friends.  It was a little strange that not everyone was playing because some people left when they were done playing.

-There were a handful of elements about that tournament that weren't about the tournament.  At some point USAU was touting a group of middle (?) school kids that came in on a bus to watch games.  While I think it was cool that these middle schoolers came in on a weekday to watch it felt like I was hearing about it from USAU a little more than would casually happen.

-In general USAU felt (or perhaps feels) a little to self-serious.  There was apparently some tiffs about the captain's meeting that seemed silly and unnecessary.  There were multiple times that it felt like the level of seriousness was getting ramped up faster that I personally was ready for.  

-Playing a game that starts at 7:30 pm felt strange.  While the game was still "important" for reasons I'll get to later, one of the really strange elements was what it meant to end so late.  The game wasn't over until 9:30, which meant we didn't get home until 10:30 so our clocks were all sorts of messed up.  Not that it really mattered, but after a little bit at home we realized it was already 1 am and we had just finished "dinner."  Late games are not fun.

-I don't think my earlier argument that Thursday games had less value was supported as the day wound down.  It looked and felt like everyone played hard every game.  While there were some major movement in the pools I don't think anyone did that intentionally.

-Interesting fact:  In each division the pool winners advanced to the semis.  I don't know when the last time that happened, but it feels really strange and has a unclear significance.  I think you could look at this two ways.  On one hand it lends more significance to Thursday's games because finishing at the top of your pool (Henry Thorne will deservedly be happy about that) has a distinct advantage.  On the other hand, does it give too easy a road to the pool winner and therefore force more accurate seeding going into the tournament?  It feels pretty clear that the advantage of playing an easy pre-quarters by winning your pool is pretty strong.  Not a single quarters game had an upset and usually the pool winner won by 2-4.  Was this because the 2 seeds from each pool (or 3 seed in case of Machine) were so gassed from their pre-quarters?  Hard to say at this point.  Still, all quarters games going to chalk in all divisions is strange.

-Non-surprising fact:  The consolation game format was, for lack of a better word, dumb.  While it had been argued about since it was originally released (only a handful of weeks ago) once teams were eliminated from the quarters it again came into light how strange that format was.  The losers of the quarters were segmented by their regular season rankings.  The top two would automatically play a 5-6 game, while the bottom two would get a by in a quarter-final bracket for 7th.  I don't remember the last time previous data was used in the middle of a tournament to decide placement into a bracket.  In this case Chain and Sub Zero were immediately placed behind Machine and Doublewide based on regular season results.  Actually, not even on regular season results, but regular season rankings.  If it were based on results Chain was 2-1 against Machine at that point.  So Machine and Doublewide are automatically in the Pro Flight while Sub Zero and Chain both had no chance to fight for a potential 5th bid to Worlds.  Maybe looking at it this way will help: once Chain and Sub Zero were set in the quarters, there was never a way for them to finish 5th or 6th.  The options for them were 1-4 or 7-10.  That feels strange.

-Seeding REALLY matters:  The last two items make me feel like they have to get seeding correct going into the tournament.  I don't think they did a bad job this year, but since it plays such a role in determining who is likely to make quarters and then again who is going to get placed where in consolation brackets, there can't be the common mistakes with tournament seeding or regular season ranking.  Both of those systems are going to need some reworking because their failsafe mechanism (power pools for nationals ranking gaffes) has been removed.

-I'm fairly positive that USAU achieved what seemed like its #1 goal: visibility.  I'm confident that there were more spectators at this Nationals compared to last year, although I would love to see numbers to back this up (and have no doubt that USAU will be tweeting those out if the have them and are "good").  That there were more people and press paying attention to ultimate is great.

-Mike Couzens is much taller than I thought.  The height difference between he and Evan Lepler is significant and now I see it every time they are on TV.

-Seeing all of the U23 players at the tournament was great.  I think Ian was the only person I wasn't able to find.  They are wonderful people and I love them all very much.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Gender Contact Ratio

I went back to watch the U23 Mixed final because Jason and I watched it last night and were struck by how seldom the women on Team Canada touched the disc.  We knew that going into the game, but figured once we established a defensive strategy to limit their guys that the women would touch the disc more.  So I decided to track the number of touches by each gender during the game.

The number of touches by the Canadian Men were 141 while the number of touches our guys were 129.  The Canadian women touched the disc 24 times while our ladies touched the disc 51 times.  If you turn those into ratios (here's looking at you Sean Childers) then the ratio of male to female touches was 5.875 for Team Canada and 2.529 for USA-X (yes, yes, yes).  What does that mean, I don't really know.  I guess one way to look at it is the number of men that were likely to touch the disc before a lady touched the disc.  In a 4:3 game actual parity of touches would be a ratio of 1.33.
We knew our strength was in our women and the match ups we could get with them.  We also felt the Canadians didn't look to their women enough (#4 Truong and #44 Bussin are ballers).

This metric isn't really meant to be an explanation for wins and losses, but more an interesting way to looking at the mixed game and the way the offense worked.  I think that excellent teams can play different ways in mixed and be successful.  But when I interviewed for that job I said that I wanted a team where the women were an integral part of the team.  Looking at that number makes me feel like I did my job.

I'll try to get back into the Film Room and see what I can find from the NexGen stuff.  I've got some work to do with Chain as well, so that might slow me down.  Fortunately I don't have formal work to do for another two weeks so I'll have time on my hands.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

NexGen Filmroom: Ring of Fire

There are few teams that I enjoy watching as much as Ring.  I think it comes from being from the south and playing against many of their now gone players in college and club.  There is something that the old Ring teams were able to do that was both frustrating and impressive.  Many of those faces are gone now (and are instead beating me in the masters division) but some of these kids still have that Ring flare, and when I heard Puolos' name from the commentators I knew there was a chance that the old Ring would show up.

Nexen was coming off of a loss and in need of a win.  When teams have their backs to the wall the do what they think they do best.  It is incumbent on a defense to know what the opponent does best and have a game plan to tackle that.  I don't think Ring was able to do this and instead responded by doing what they do best defensively.  That worked a little bit but NexGen responded back in a way that Ring could not (or did not) counter.  Ironically it was by doing exactly what Ring started doing to them.

Figure 1: Ring comes down and tried to hide their 3-3-1
According to the commentator (Mario O'Brien) Ring decided to run open lines.  They also decided to run some zones.  The Ring I remember was all about hard man defense and force middle, so seeing this zone was surprising.  They would often run it shadowed as a poachy man but it was pretty clearly a zone and NexGen handled it just fine.  Figure 1 is a picture of their zone which usually took the form of a mark with sagging poaches on each side.  Kind of a 3-3-1 or maybe a 1-3-3.  They never had it working for long enough to really tell.  Unless you can bring a zone that really slows NexGen down and forces them into lateral passes they are going to get trough it pretty quick.  They like to break the mark and that is what they see when a zone comes at them.  If you are going to be effective against them you have to force them into a zone where swinging and handler work is required.  A 3-3-1 is fine, but you have to be able to shut down their poppers and over the top throws (which Ring doesn't do).  The two times Ring tried zone were both failures.  I would have liked to see them run something that changed NexGen's offense rather than play into it.

Figure 2: Ring's starting man defense giving a slight cushion.
Fig. 3: Ring's ending defense.  3 out of 5 cutters have a hand on their  back.
So Ring did what they should do, play man defense.  But their tone changed through out the game.  In Figure 2 you can see the defenders are giving a slight cushion.  In Figure 3 (towards the end of the game) the defenders all have a hand on the cutters.  This is a common tactic that Ring employs and is successful in ways that you don't always see.  The obvious advantage is giving the cutters less free space to run (which is something the NexGen cutters thrive on).  But the lingering effect is that it slows down the desire to cut.  Ring's defense, which is atypical for some of these college kids, will bump you and seal you to take away angles.  At times it will blatantly foul you, but not as often as you (the cutter) might think.  This slowly saps the cutter's desire to move away from the ball and shuts down continuation cuts because cutters aren't in the right space.

NexGen had no problem getting open through most of the game because Ring was letting them run in motion.  But towards the end of the game it turned into a battle of "dominators" where only 2 or 3 people were producing for NexGen.  This wasn't because Ring had effectively stayed with NexGen's cuts.  It was because Ring employed (starting in the second half) their standard, tough defense that required NexGen to work hard to get anything.  The result was a tired NexGen that wasn't moving as well as it did in the first half.  That is a win for Ring.

One of the other ways that Ring's defensive style allowed them to stay in the game were through plays like the one in the video below.  Puolos (black #14) is guarding Mickle (white #23) in the middle of the field and is clearly leaning on him, preventing him from getting to the open side.  Mickle doesn't really do much to respond.  He doesn't try to move Puolos out of position, or break the contact Puolos is using to position the cutter. But when the break cut (the easy one to cut for) is open Mickle instinctively pushes against the contact as part of getting open.  Puolos is a savvy player who calls the foul and stops the effective play.  Classic Ring of Fire, aggressive ultimate where your counter to their strategy results in a foul that seems (but isn't) unfair.  The camera angle isn't great, but I'd be hard pressed to believe Mickle didn't push off of Puolos in this play.  Based on how hard Puolos is leaning into Mickle in order for Mickle to hold his ground he has to be pushing back at least a little.  What Mickle needed to do was move away from the contact and get Puolos in motion and unable to maintain the contact Puolos is using.

So Ring employed their defensive strategy to stop NexGen's easy offense.  The counter that NexGen came up with was to run what O'Brien called a "dominator" (20 years ago we had a different, less intimidating name for it).  Handlers run a weave forcing the handler defenders to control space well as the handlers are given 40 yd x 20 yd to work with.  In this case the dominator was run between Dylan and Simon and excessively used Beau-and-gos and high release backhand.  The video below is an example of that process.  While other cutters provide forward targets during this point no one makes a forward pass other than Dylan and Simon.

Beating that two man show is tough and you have to use a team defense in order to do it effectively.  Toward the end of the video the Ring defender on Dylan (Weeks) is so far off of Dylan he isn't able to contest anything and allows the Beau-and-go to happen without any trouble. I would have expected Ring to have those adjustments ready since Chain used them effectively in the previous game.

Ring also employed a more straight forward dominator out of an H stack that gave three handlers (Saul, Green and then Puolos) plenty of room to work.  In the video below it is clear that the NexGen defenders don't know how to stop that offense.  It requires a technical defender who can triangulate lanes well and use that to stop the cut back look.  The dominator runs at its most effective when the thrower makes on fake to get the mark off balance and then throws to a cutter moving from open side to break side at the moment of the fake.  As a defender it is tough because if you are guarding the cutter you have to pursue the open side cut hard enough to stop that, but remain close enough on the break move to stop that as well.  If you are just chasing your cutter then you need to be really fast and change direction well.  Those of us who are slow and have bad knees know that what you really should do is pursue the open side move well, read the fake early and seal the cut back with your body.  Very few of the NexGen defenders do this instinctively.  They are just too fast to be concerned with playing technical defense.  They will jump on the mark and over pursue on the cuts.  But Puolos and Saul are smart and use that against them effectively (especially towards the end of the video).  They see the angles quickly and use fakes and positioning to maximize the angles and pushing the NexGen players for trying to pursue hard rather than well.

NexGen wins this on the backs of Dylan and Simon and their ability to create offense despite little motion from downfield.  Ring lost the game because they didn't have an adjustment to take that away effectively.  Ring was able to stop the bus from cutting effectively and was able to get some points from  an effective dominator and good breaks.  But Ring made some mistakes late that gave NexGen a chance that they capitalized on.

One number of note:  NexGen was throwing more hucks, catching 11 out of 15 (73%) while keeping Ring to 5 out of 10 (50%).  Most of those hucks were from a stand-still or after a simple forward pass.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

NexGen Filmroom: Chain Lightning

I'm skipping the Doublewide game for two reasons.  First, the film was terrible.  It jumped and skipped often and made it difficult to watch.  Second, the effort put forth by DW was not impressive.  They looked lazy and uninterested.  I hear it was stupid hot for the game so that probably played into it.  All the same DW lost despite what looked like a terrible performance by NexGen.  Dylan had something like 3 drops which is remarkably uncharacteristic.

But with that game behind them NexGen took on Atlanta's Chain Lightning to hopefully go over .500 for the first time this season.  Unfortunately they ran into a Chain team that had a solid game plan and just had a good game from its rookies. (Note: I am a biased commentator here since I am from Atlanta, have worked with Chain in the past and was at this game).

I have already written about NexGen's defensive strategies.  But Chain wins this game on the back of stellar hucks and a well communicated defensive scheme.  Normally NexGen is able to keep defenses on their toes by attacking forward.  They commonly run an open side reset and go (what is being called the Beau-and-go by Mario in the Revolver commentary).  Straight up man defenses struggle with this play because it requires the mark to be incredibly mindful and then also as fast as the person they are defending.  Both of those are hard to accomplish this early in the season against college players still close to prime after Nationals.  The first video shows how NexGen uses this strategy.  Here Chris Kocher (NexGen #7) and Simon Montague (NexGen #8) run it by Chris throwing to the open side reset and immediately cutting to the far side for the give and go.

This is a hallmark of their offense, run best when Dylan is playing the role that Kocher is playing.  They ran this play 11 times during this game.  Chain was playing a team defense that reduced the efficiency of that play.  In the following video you can see the play shut down in the same way a good pick and roll can be squashed on the basketball court, by switching.

In this case Byron (Chain #8) was the original mark and as Simon threw to Dylan in the center of the field Byron and Jared (Chain #13) perform an easy switch to neutralize the give and go.  This doesn't eliminate the benefit of the play.  Dylan correctly responds by throwing around the switch to the break side.  This reversal is still very useful, but isn't what NexGen wants to do and doesn't facilitate offense for them in the same way.  NexGen is at its best when they can run downhill, get the disc in power position and huck it to speed (see their first point against Ring last night and the first point after a timeout in this game).  By taking the reverse option rather than the desired give and go they are getting the disc in the hands of weaker throwers going the wrong direction.  This is a win for Chain even if it isn't directly a turn.

Back to some numbers.  NexGen ran the Beau-and-go six times in the first half with it being successful four of those times.  In the second half they ran it five times but only successfully twice.  This was the result of better defensive switching in the second half by Chain.

Chain's team defense slowed The Bus down on set plays as well.  In the next video Arenson and Snow (defenders at ~30 yard line) handle switches after a time out to prevent NexGen's timeout play.  The result is a hammer to the breakside and a whole lot of effort put in for the NexGen squad.  While these switches and defensive sets didn't produce direct turns (only one coverage sack on good reset defense by Mark Poole) it did require effort for NexGen to overcome.

So what does all this mean?  NexGen is a team that likes to attack the break space, likes to run give and goes to get to the power position and then huck it.  Chain implemented a defense that slowed the first two down and coupled that with a solid possession game to win a close one.  It is easy to look at the score (15-12) and forget that it was 12s at one point.  But a sound team defense was the adjustment that made a difference in an otherwise close game.  Here are the numbers:

The huck percentages work out to 57% and 58% for NexGen and Chain respectively.  We all know that Chain likes the long ball, even from a stopped disc (twice in this game if I recall).  Neither of these are percentages that I think are very good, but are to be expected with teams that throw a high number of huck attempts (14 for NexGen and 12 for Chain).  

Both teams hit a variety of receivers on their hucks (5 for NexGen and 6 for Chain) so it wasn't the same match up over and over.

Four Chain rookies caught hucks and 5 scored goals.

Chain forced only one coverage sack while NexGen forced two.

Thanks again to NexGen for getting this video out quickly and in high quality.